It can be embarrassing to talk about our bathroom habits with anyone, much less our physician. However, discussing what’s happening, or not happening, on the toilet and how things in the bowl look is a necessary step in managing our colon health. March is National Colon Cancer Awareness Month, the ideal time to remind ourselves about this disease, including symptoms we need to watch for and prevention strategies. In this blog, we’ll also address some recent developments in both disease prevalence and prevention.
Colon cancer’s impact
Colon and rectal cancers, also called colorectal cancers, are cancers that start in either the colon or rectum. You can learn more about types of colorectal cancer and how they start by referencing this guide.
Excluding skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States. In 2017, the American Cancer Society estimates:
The American Cancer Society has created a visual snapshot of colon cancer statistics. The disease tends to afflict older Americans, with 90 percent of cases in people over 50 — but that could be changing.
Are colon cancer victims getting younger?
Recently, an article published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute and related news reports identified a trend, indicating more adults in their 20s and 30s are being diagnosed with colorectal cancer. Even as overall rates of colorectal cancer have been falling dramatically since the mid-1980s, there's been a steady uptick of this disease among people younger than 50. The cause of this trend is unclear at this point — are we diagnosing better, or is there truly an increase? And is the uptick a result of our obesity epidemic? Further studies are required to help understand this disturbing trend.
Who should get screened?
With the recent news about an increase in Millennials getting colon cancer, it can be confusing to know who should get screened. Check these guidelines, then ask your physician if you should be screened.
- Start screening at age 50, if you’re at average risk
- If you have a family history of the disease or other risk factors, consult your physician about when to start.
- Millennials and others under 50 who have risk factors should consult with their physician to see when they should start screening.
- At any age, if you experience symptoms, see your physician and get screened.
There are various screening options available, including fecal test, sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy, CT colonography and double contrast barium enema. Screening has made a huge impact in reducing the number of deaths from the disease.
Drink java, avoid cancer?
A University of Southern California Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center of Keck Medicine study published in 2016 links coffee consumption with a decreased risk of colorectal cancer. The data showed that even moderate coffee consumption, between one to two servings a day — including decaf, instant and espresso — was associated with a 26 percent reduction in the odds of developing colorectal cancer after adjusting for known risk factors.
Why? Coffee contains many elements that contribute to overall colorectal health and may explain the preventive properties.
- Caffeine and polyphenol can act as antioxidants, limiting the growth of potential colon cancer cells.
- Melanoidins generated during the roasting process have been hypothesized to encourage colon mobility.
- Diterpenes may prevent cancer by enhancing the body's defense against oxidative damage.
Tree bark new tool in cancer battle
A drug made from African bush willow tree bark is being combined with radiation therapy to successfully treat cancer in lab mice, according to a study by the Royal Free Hospital and University College Medical School in London, and the Gray Laboratory Cancer Research Trust. The drug, called combretastatin, works by destroying the developing blood vessels which tumors generate to supply themselves. Radiation therapy ensures any leftover cells are destroyed. The study focused on colorectal cancer, but tests covered all cancers which produce solid tumors, including breast, liver and lung. Experts now hope to start human trials of the combination therapy as the next stage.
Scientists found that human tumors grown in mice disappeared completely in 85 percent of cases. The animals were still free of the disease almost a year afterwards.
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with colon cancer and are looking for a supportive care team, contact Sierra Nevada Cancer Center and Dr. Perez. With fellowship training in oncology from the MD Anderson Cancer Center, and nearly 20 years in practice as an oncologist, Dr. Perez has the skill, expertise and understanding to help guide you on your cancer journey.